[Burlingame, CA] Rasa- Contemporary Southern Indian

Rasa (and All Spice) has been on the to-try list for a few years). A mention by @tastytime and a last minute dinner plan change finally nudged me over the line for a visit to Rasa. Rasa labels itself as a restaurant serving coastal Southern Indian food, and snatched a star for the last couple of years. The server stressed the quality and provenance of their ingredients (organic, free range, etc.), and some of the items are not traditional but dishes more familiar to the masses here re-imagined with Southern Indian seasoning.

Bombay sliders with a potato patty fritters, dipped into ghee with the chutney podi mixed in. The ghee added richness and the chutney podi (gunpowder spice) added complexity with a little bit of chili kick.

Black + white calamari with tamarind sauce. The tamarind sauce was at once sweet, tart, fruity, with a tiny bit of kick from ghost pepper, brightening up the fried spiced calamaris that otherwise were a bit muted.

Genovese basil dosa with tamarind chutney and spiced potato masala hash. Its a bit odd to eat dosa (or uthappam) during dinner but they have a whole section of these on their menu so why not. Here the quality of the ingredients made the dosa stood out. I particularly liked the coconut chutney, in which the coconut flavors subtly shined through rather than overpowered.

Andhra chicken curry with Kerala paratha. Too often lower quality meat was used in Indian curries. These chicken thighs were tender and succulent. The curry was very mellow, balanced and nuanced. Its a bit too mellow, for me.

To summarize, its a meal of restraint and balance, with good quality ingredients. To me, perhaps because of what I ordered, the flavors were a bit muted and didn’t awake the senses as I hoped it would. I am not saying it should be super spicy, but 30% more of every seasoning should brighten the flavors. I’d happily take any of the sauces home though.

The server recommended also the moilee, a coconut fish curry, which he pointed out was one of the spicier items on the menu. Ours, as he pointed out, was at the lower end of the spice scale. If I have the chance, I would just go straight to the ‘spicier’ items on the menu next time.

What are people’s favorite items on the menu? How do you like Rasa? What are your favorite higher end Indian eateries around here?

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We’re there somewhat regularly. The food is fairly subtle or restrained, as you mentioned, not explosive in flavor, but it’s balanced. It could be my lack of in depth experience with Indian food. Vegetarian/pescatarian friends love it. The menu is pretty consistent. I don’t visit high end Indian much - we thought Campton Place was not bad, but 2 Michelin star?? I think Rasa has solid, subtle, and quality Indian food but I don’t know about 1 Michelin star; the restaurant doesn’t seem like a 1-star establishment, from the service and all, though the food is good. Honestly I like their sister restaurant Rasoi for takeout (what I believe to be Punjabi style) even more. The food is more my style, at least.

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We visited in March 2016 and liked it quite a bit. Better quality ingredients and more complex spicing is what we look for. We dislike Juhu so never go there. Looks from your photo as if Rasa has widened/changed the menu, which is good.

Sadly we don’t get into SF or the Peninsula much, so we haven’t tried the newest upscale Indian fusion places. Tried Taj Campton Place and thought it was basically great CA cuisine with a few Indian touches. The kitchen definitely has the chops to do something more daring, but doubt their clientele would support it.

Taj’s housemade Indian breads are hands-down, THE BEST bread we have had since Cyrus/Healdsburg closed up shop. The Indian sauces were amazing and beautifully balanced, even when paired together the flavors remained distinct, not muddled.

Is Rasa worth 1 star? When you compared it to the vast majority of generic curry houses, especially with the growing trend to make the food ever sweeter and more like dessert than dinner - yes, they probably are; if only as an example of “you too could do this if you’d stop being content to serve slop for cheap prices.”

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How do you know Rasoi is affiliated with Rasa? I looked it up and they mentioned a sister restaurant in the Mission runs by the chef’s dad.

Re: Michelin Star. even though i am sure the restaurant is happy to get a star, since the awarding of the star is not controlled by the restaurant, I tried to focus on what came out of their kitchen and restaurant, which they have control of.

But yes, I feel its a nice restaurant, though I am not sure its 1*. It is Michelin’s problem. Then again, I’ve had meals at 1* restaurants that made me wonder. With that said, if Michelin’s criteria is that the food is better cooked, and the environment is nicer, then I guess it is 1*.

I can’t think of too many higher end Indian around here. Maybe add the Amber family of restaurants to the list. All Spice seems more Californian with a touch of Indian these days rather than Indian. Most of the rest of them seem content to compete in the cheapest or the casual/ somewhat cheap category.

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@BradFord, @Lethe2020, what dishes did you like?

We had lunch there over a year ago. Ordered Bombay Slider, Vegetable Curry, Lamb Curry and some Dosa dish. Liked all of them. The Vegetable Curry actually had some kick.

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Liked:
Curry Leaf Chicken (Indian McNuggets), altho chicken was overcooked a bit. But it always is, these days, courtesy of super-salmonella scares. Very rarely do we get served a properly juicy chicken except at very high end restaurants (although Daughter Thai/Oakland does a fine job with their Hat Yai dish).

Black and White Calamari. Nice combo of onion rings and squid.

Chettinadu Lamb Curry, altho we feel the better rice with it would be jasmine rather than the coconut rice we received. The latter is excellent but best shown off by a simple grilled dish; here the complex curry sauce overwhelmed it.

Kheema Uttappam (egg pancake with lamb and sweet peppers). Loved this. Wonderful combo of flavors.

So why don’t we rate Rasa higher? Although my uttappam and DH’s curry were good, as were the two starters, what we noticed afterwards was the spices used by Rasa didn’t vary much between dish to dish in what we ordered. Also, although we loved the level of chile heat, by the time we were eating the entrées I remarked to DH that everything seemed to have the exact same level of heat – no more, no less – and he agreed.

There was an aggressive sameness to the dishes, despite the fact the actual dishes were different from one another. By the time we finished eating, my palate was becoming fatigued.

In discussing this meal later, DH remarked that of the three cuisines we rate the highest – Chinese, French, and Indian – Indian seems the most difficult to translate into a “middle ground”, where fusion is trying to establish itself. It will be interesting to see how these new Indo-fusion restaurants evolve.

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I think I need to pick from your list of dishes to order next time. My dishes had the ‘not-so-aggressive sameness’ to the dishes and that by the time we finished eating, i had the reverse problem, which was that my palate was longing for more!

Yes! I had this feeling too, perhaps it’s harder to serve vegetarians like me. Still, it was great food. Not complaining… :slight_smile:

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold